Feature Article: Did You Know

Did you try this?

By George Kramer/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Mar 14, 2019

In a modern world of message boards, but not so different than the days before them when we shrugged to explain a tough day, what typically happens? Fishing therapists out there will gladly and immediately inquire, “Did you try _____?” or “Did you try that?”

Subsequently, the frustrated angler will list an array of methods or baits that failed to produce. Yet, and this is the problem, after all the online doctoring, almost never is there a resolve.

matchthelureMATCH THE LURE to the cover. Go weedless in brush or reeds — it’s more efficient.

There is no resolve because those advisors weren’t there. And the fisherman/woman is further frustrated, (embarrassed or dis­appointed) because he/she can’t do anything differently until the next time out.

When someone says they tried “everything” or offers a list of unproductive baits or depths, it pretty much tells me about where they are in their fishing career. (Meaning, as well, places I have been in mine.) Finding catchable fish does require questions to be asked and answered, but when you’re out there, you have to ask and answer them yourself.

Your first question should address their location. Seasonally, we can all give a nice seminar on where bass will be found, but in real time, you have to figure out where are they today (this morning, this afternoon, whenever you’re there).

Some locations, the spring spawn progression starts in February and other places not until May. But the progression could start in 30 or 40 feet. And even worse, it could start ahead of schedule. Water temperature can vary, but hours of daylight increase minutes each day early in the year. We may not notice, but the fish do.

And they act on it. In 40 years I have seen lakes rise quickly, and be muddy and “cold” to the point fishermen determine the spawn will be later. Then in early April or early May, as the water settles, we don’t just see nests, we see fry. You didn’t fish in February and March? You missed the first wave!

WIND-PROTECTED AREAS are easier to fish and usually have warmer surface temperatures.

I bring this up because the best way to solve the mystery is to beat these spawners to the punch. You go to those areas: flat bays, protected coves, narrower cuts and fish where you know the bass are ultimately headed. And do this, even if it’s December or January, if conditions are stable and favorable, or if the lake is flooding.

In the former case, a “false spring” is the real thing to creatures that live in or near the water, and they will act accordingly. With the rising water, they will follow the rise and explore their new boundaries. Mud is temporary, and since they are cold-blooded, they are not going to flinch over a couple of degrees drop.

Now some would say, try this. Turn on your sonar and find fish in 20, 30 or 60 feet. The pros, especially the Western guys with a full complement of NORAD-style electronics, may be able to do that. But they aren’t there, and they aren’t you or me.

And frankly, if I was fully equipped, knowledgeable and confident in my deep-water approach, I wouldn’t be looking for assistance — or sympathy — for an un­productive trip. I’d just figure they weren’t biting or conditions were not ideal and not worry about it.

Most of us, though, would rather catch something and at the very least, learn something. (Today is just the pre-fish for tomorrow).

NO RULE AGAINST using a drop-shot early in the year. You need to get a bite.


Having a plan of attack can help. And also having a goal. Michael Jones (yes, the one who writes for this very newspaper) used to do seminars and he described the progression of a bass angler was first, to catch a fish, then catch a limit of fish, and then catch a trophy fish.

When we struggle out there — I think we forget — we need to catch a fish. It might suffice to get a few bites to let us know we are on the right track, but nothing is quite as concrete as your thumb in its mouth. It’s a challenge sometimes, but focus on the steps and don’t think of how you’ll try to explain some perceived failure.

So first thing, shrink the lake. Starting in late winter or early spring, narrow it to 10 feet deep and don’t worry if the fish are two feet deeper. Some of your casts will slip down to 15, so if there is a biter there, just take note.

But more than merely depth, go to south-facing banks when possible, and wind-protected areas (north winds first and prevailing winds second). Here you’ll either get more sunlight, or less wind chill, either of which may make conditions better for the fish, but surely make them better for the angler (when we’re uncomfortable, we tend to lose confidence).

Match your lure to the cover. Since there is little grass growth early, you have more options. Still, with brush or tules or any kind of “grabby” cover, don’t use open-hook baits. Use something that doesn’t hang up, so when you get a shot at an ideal target, you won’t wreck the spot because you need to get unsnagged.

With riprap or scattered chunk rock, then in addition to jigs or some type of worm rig, you have the option of a squarebill or other reaction baits depending on the depth you want to probe. The benefit of the latter is you can cover more water. The downside (and it could make a huge difference in catching) is we sometimes fish these too fast for the activity level of the fish.

Do what you have confidence in, because that usually means you know how to control a bait that you like. But if you don’t get that bite you want, the game is still not over.

Don’t be random. The first fish up in shallow water have their choice of cover spots. The best spots: the cluster of sticks, the heavier trunk, the laydown, evidence of rock debris leading down to the water, or boulder tops or a break in the brush line. These are the most likely places to cast — and maybe make a second or third cast to the very same spot.

Then, come back later. It could all rely on timing. What won’t bite at 7 a.m. might be ready to go an hour or two later. A nip of a bite at 9 might be a thump at 10:30. Note the environment. Shorebirds might be rare, but there could be grebes or ruddy ducks in these areas. What are they doing? Is there any life or activity (even a riffle) that wasn’t there previously?

Only you can witness this — because you’re there. However, if you are fishing a bait that matches up with the physical nature of the areas, and is not too far afield in color or action (looks and acts like something edible) and you have confidence in it (did someone say drop-shot?) then at the end of the day, you will have done all that you can.

If you still don’t score after all this, no need to post on social media that you had a bad day. You merely had a learning day, or a practice day. The best in the world have all had them.

But if you do what I think you’re going to do, you are going to catch a fish. And in fact, you may catch a limit or more. You can do this!

dontbearandomDON’T BE RANDOM — Fish the best spots or targets only.

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